Workplace ethics is a complex – but increasingly important – subject.
Society is more conscious and informed about the ethical practices of businesses. Consumers prefer to buy from companies with ethical standards and reputations – whether it’s green credentials, principled working practices or fair trade sourcing of product. Starbucks, for example, is committed to one hundred percent sustainably-sourced coffee. And cosmetics company Lush seeks to minimize waste by recycling labels and paper packaging. These companies have successfully positioned themselves in the marketplace as being ethical businesses. Ethics is increasingly becoming a key marketing differentiator for many business brands.
The starting point for any customer-facing company has to be internal. With a strong internal ethics program, your employees are more likely to internalize high ethical values and reflect them in their roles.
Definition Of Workplace Ethics
Ethics in the workplace are the moral guidelines that make up a company’s operating ethos and culture. These are the principles that guide an individual’s behavior in the workplace.
Company ethics may well be influenced by external factors. These could be federal or state legislation, industry regulations as well as market and consumer demands. For example, the workplace ethics guiding doctors and healthcare staff will be different from those involved in retail or hospitality.
Workplace ethics are also influenced by societal expectations. Values such as fairness, accountability, integrity, citizenship and responsibility are the most common.
Examples Of Ethical Practices In The Workplace
Most companies, consciously or unconsciously, already have some form of ethical practice in place. Most employers are required to comply with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s safety and health regulations. In addition, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission expects companies to have anti-discriminatory policies in place.
Organizations may have already developed anti-harassment policies and procedures governing workplace bullying. Guidelines on accepting corporate gifts, standards of employee behavior and anti-fraud are also commonplace.
Others still will have gone a step further by publishing guidelines on the ethical sourcing of manufacturing materials or labor, green workplace practices. Or they may have chosen to donate goods and services to charitable causes.
Your business is probably at least part of the way towards becoming an ethical workplace. What may be lacking is formal recognition, or applying explicit language and labels.
Why Ethics Is Important
Organizations with strong ethics benefit from a highly motivated workforce. Employees who are treated fairly and respectfully demonstrate a powerful sense of shared purpose and good morale. This, in turn, will result in increased productivity.
And a motivated, engaged workforce will not only be more productive but also deliver superior customer service.
According to a report published by the Society for Human Resource Management, the stock price for the 100 most ethical firms outperforms those of their counterparts by 300 percent!
On top of these benefits to your bottom line is the enhanced reputation your brand will enjoy in the market. In the face of ever-increasing public scrutiny, organizations that can demonstrate high ethical standards will command respect while enjoying strong, honest relationships with consumers.
What’s more, your business will run more smoothly and efficiently. Staff will have a clear sense of what’s expected of them and the boundaries within which they need to operate.
In addition, your employees can feel confident in ‘whistle-blowing’ any issues around inappropriate behavior. They will feel reassured being supported by your organization.
For attracting new talent, having a strong ethical brand will increase your appeal to new, high caliber recruits. Research tells us that Millennials, in particular, want to work for organizations making a positive impact on the world. For this generational cohort, choosing potential employers is about principles – not just pay.
How To Introduce Workplace Ethics
A strong ethical organization isn’t just about having the right policies and procedures in place. It’s easy enough, for example, to research and publish an anti-harassment policy for the company. But that won’t necessarily deliver the required outcome. Winning over the hearts and minds of employees – so they internalize ethical standards – requires more than just a written policy or statement.
So, how do you go about ensuring ethical standards are embedded with the workforce so that they become second nature? Here we take you through six easily achievable ways for you to encourage and nurture an ethical approach.
1. Define Your Organization’s Ethical Guidelines
The first step is being clear about what workplace ethics means to your business. As we have seen, ethics will vary from workplace to workplace. It’s important to brainstorm with staff members, stakeholders, business leaders, and if possible, consumers what your workplace ethics look like. Remember some staff may be reticent to speak out. Include a variety of channels to capture ideas. This could include anonymous surveys, suggestions boxes and a hotline.
2. Develop A Written Ethical Code Of Conduct
The next step is to develop a written ethical code of conduct. The code should clearly set out what’s important to you as a company alongside the standards you expect from staff.
Make it clear what forms of behavior are not acceptable at work – and the consequences for any breach. It’s a good idea to include information on external sources of professional help and support within the workplace. For example, an employee experiencing workplace bullying from a manager may need some external support before laying an internal complaint.
And once it’s finalized make sure you publish the code on the company intranet and website. Publicize it to all staff with the appropriate level of fanfare. Consider running a regular campaign directing staff to a different topic of the code each week. Include a quiz to validate their understanding.
A published code of ethics encourages transparency and can also be useful in the recruitment process. It makes it easy for prospective employees to decide whether or not the company is a good fit for their personal moral code. And it also means employers can readily assess whether candidates are a suitable match for the company culture.
3. Lead By Example
The drive towards an ethical business must come from the top. Senior managers and executives must model expected behaviors and standards. In addition, company leaders should regularly communicate to staff the importance of workplace ethics. This can be reinforced via newsletters, blogs, company meetings and more.
Senior management should encourage a trickle-down effect by making hiring decisions based on ethical behavior. Employees who clearly demonstrate sound ethical practices should be promoted and rewarded. In addition, the ethical code of conduct should be referenced within the annual staff performance review process. This way, it becomes an integral part of employee evaluations.
4. Onboard New Staff And Train Existing Ones
Staff training of new or existing team members will be critical to supporting a program of workplace ethics. After all, workplace ethics are not always black and white – often there are gray areas. It’s these less clear-cut situations that can be problematic in the workplace.
Role-playing is a good way to get staff members thinking about ethics and applying it in a practical sense. Think about creating commonplace scenarios. Ask employees to discuss some of the ethical challenges. Also, ask colleagues to share realistic ethical dilemmas they could easily encounter in the workplace. As part of the training exercise, employees can discuss the implications and come up with possible solutions.
Here are some common scenarios:
- What would you do in a situation where you see a colleague regularly taking office supplies home from work for their own personal use?
- How would you react if a manager fails to provide mandatory safety equipment for staff performing a manufacturing task?
- What about the colleague who regularly phones in sick when actually they are just having a day off to go shopping?
- Perhaps you have overheard a co-worker making a racial slur about a fellow worker. What do you do?
- How would you react if you see a staff member harassing or bullying a colleague?
- If a co-worker posts negative comments on Facebook about a colleague, is that something you should tackle at work?
Role-playing and discussing ethical dilemmas are a great way of encouraging staff to debate what it means to be an ethical workplace. And it’s also a good way of keeping all members of an organization accountable for their actions.
5. Be Prepared To Take Action
It’s pointless having an ethical code of conduct if there are no consequences for breaches. Organizations need to have a zero-tolerance for any violations and must be prepared to take action against those who cross the line. A code that isn’t enforced will have no meaning or power and is simply a waste of time. Clearly communicate what the consequences are of a breach. For example, verbal warning, written warning or at worst, dismissal.
6. Review And Update
As we’ve seen, ethics in the workplace is a dynamic concept. Having gone to the effort of developing an ethical code of conduct, make sure it stays top of mind. It’s vital that workplace ethics are reviewed and updated on a regular basis. Societal changes, technological developments, and emerging consumer demands can influence ethical practices.
Make sure you have an annual review mechanism in place as a minimum. Try to include staff representation in the evaluation process.
Ethical Companies Reap The Rewards
Finally, if all this sounds like a bit of chore then consider this: Consumers and employees respect companies with strong ethical standards. In fact, increasingly they are actively seeking out businesses with demonstrated high ethical standards. Ethical businesses are outperforming the competition making it well worth the investment.